Open despite outbreak ● Mad Matt rallies his troops ● Our essential USPS

Wednesday, April 15, 2020




► LIVE from the Seattle Times — Coronavirus daily news update, April 15 — The number of confirmed infections and deaths in Washington is still rising, although at a generally slower pace. The state Department of Health confirmed 156 diagnoses and 25 deaths from COVID-19 Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 10,694 cases and 541 deaths.

► In the Tri-City Herald — Tyson meat plant near Tri-Cities to stay open despite coronavirus outbreak there — Walla Walla County health officials say they will allow the Tyson Fresh Meats plant near the Tri-Cities to continue operating even though about 42 people — most, if not all of them, employees — are believed to have COVID-19 linked to an outbreak at the Wallula plant. Health officials expect even more cases. Tyson employs about 1,400 at the plant.

EDITOR’S NOTE — This report includes no comment from workers (again), but plenty of comment from company executives about everything they are doing to protect their workers. National reports of meat plants becoming COVID-19 hotspots, some of which have been shut down by authorities, include workers’ comments that company safety measures are insufficient. “My life is in jeopardy because we’re working elbow to elbow,” said one worker.

► In the Seattle Times — Grocery workers, customers say social distancing inside stores is difficult amid coronavirus pandemic — Despite enhanced safety measures implemented by some of the region’s biggest grocery chains, frightened employees and shoppers say they’ve seen distressed customers crashing carts together to avoid one another, or sidestepping workers trying to restock shelves. They say some stores also seem more interested in making money than keeping people safely distanced and aren’t doing enough to limit and monitor crowds. The UFCW union, representing 900,000 grocery employees nationwide, said at least 30 of its members have died and 3,000 are sick from COVID-19. UFCW president Marc Perrone urged shoppers to wear masks and gloves and be more mindful of social distancing… “Our store can have 450 people inside of it before it hits 50% capacity,’’ a Redmond QFC employee said. “How am I supposed to count all of them in a few minutes without getting them to freeze in one place? The answer is, it’s impossible and the store knows it. They don’t want to be keeping people out.’’

► In the Yakima H-R — Relief fund for undocumented workers in Washington state sees big demand — A coronavirus relief fund set up for undocumented workers in Washington state has seen significant demand.

► In the Seattle Times — Washington young adults are getting slammed financially by coronavirus crisis, new survey shows — Among those 18 to 29 years old, more than one out of three (37%) say that they have, or someone in their household has, lost a job or been laid off because of the coronavirus outbreak. And nearly half (48%) have taken a pay cut or had their hours reduced.

► From the AP — Portland to furlough employees, cut mayor pay amid pandemic — All non-union city employees in Portland, Ore., must take 10 days of unpaid leave by October and Mayor Ted Wheeler will go without a salary for the rest of the year because of revenue loss related to the coronavirus pandemic.

► In the Seattle Times — Journalism is never more vital — and at risk (editorial) — Every industry is suffering, and all workers are important. As the nation works to shore them up, it must also ensure the free press survives and continues to perform its essential role informing the public and holding institutions accountable.

► In the (Longview) Daily News — County commissioners approve agreement with municipal employee union — Cowlitz County commissioners Tuesday approved a 4-year collective bargaining agreement with County & City Employees (AFSCME) Local 1262 covering 14 health department workers. It includes a 2% annual cost of living raise each year of the contract.




► From the AP — Alaska Air lines up nearly $1 billion in aid as U.S. agrees with airlines on relief — The Treasury Department said Tuesday that the nation’s major airlines have tentatively agreed to terms for $25 billion in federal aid. Seattle-based Alaska Air Group said it will get $992 million. As part of the funding deal, Alaska agreed to no involuntary furloughs or changes to rates of pay through Sept. 30, 2020; continued suspension of dividends and share repurchases until Sept. 30, 2021; limits on executive compensation through March 24, 2022;

► In the Seattle Times — Boeing’s jet deliveries slowed further in March while order losses increased — Boeing in March delivered just 20 aircraft, consisting of a dozen commercial passenger airliners, four freighter planes and four military derivative jets. And while the jet maker booked 31 new jet orders in March, it also saw 150 orders for the grounded 737 MAX canceled.




► From the AP — More than 30 have COVID-19 at state psychiatric hospital — At least 27 workers at Western State Hospital in Lakewood have the disease, while six patients have tested positive so far and one has died. When the COVID-19 outbreak hit the facility toward the end of March — 17 workers and six patients had the disease — they sought help from the state Department of Health… Workers say the testing process for staff has been problematic. Justin Lee, a spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees, said staff were initially told that they would be tested in a drive-through, but instead they gathered workers in a small room where they were tested simultaneously. One worker said someone sneezed on her during the process.

► In the Olympian — Inslee signs proclamations protecting stimulus checks, extending statute of limitations — The governor signed a proclamation to help commercial truck drivers keep supplies flowing to stores. It waives certain state laws for renewing or extending commercial driver licenses and commercial learner permits. Also, Inslee signed a proclamation to protect consumer assets, including federal stimulus checks, from consumer debt collections.

The Stand (April 14) — Inslee moves to protect high-risk workers, clarify L&I policies

► In the Kitsap Sun — Washington State Ferries relies heavily on fares to run. Ridership is at 1950s-era lows. — Numbers for last week showed ridership had fallen by nearly 75%, compared with the week of Feb. 16-22, when roughly 414,000 riders had been aboard a ferry. The low numbers mean fewer people are traveling and risking the contact known to spread the coronavirus. The agency is encouraging people not to sail unless they absolutely must and to leave vessels for essential workers and goods. But the agency relies heavily on fares to fund operations. Washington State Ferries runs on a mandated farebox recovery rate of 70%, which means that the majority of the agency’s operations are funded directly by riders. Revenue figures weren’t immediately available on Tuesday, but the agency figures that money is also down about 75% overall, a spokesman said.

► In the Spokesman-Review — State sues Greyhound for allowing warrantless ‘sweeps’ at Intermodal Center — By allowing warrantless “immigration sweeps” at Spokane’s Intermodal Center, Greyhound is violating state laws that protect consumers and prevent discrimination, contends a lawsuit filed Tuesday by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

► In the Spokesman-Review — Far-right politicians denounce government’s COVID-19 response in Washington, Idaho — The police chief in Republic, Washington, has called Gov. Jay Inslee a “would-be dictator.” State Rep. Matt Shea (R-Spokane Valley) has asserted the new coronavirus is a “Chinese Communist Party bioweapon.” And a Yakima city councilman has told constituents to ignore public health advice and return to work… Some in the so-called “patriot” movement spearheaded by Shea have denounced the shutdowns as “unconstitutional” – although no court has made that determination – while others view them as evidence of a global plot to strip away civil liberties and impose a totalitarian “new world order.” Shea has told his followers, “Please prepare yourself, your friends and your family for political action in the coming days and weeks. Enough is enough.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — Matt Shea has already been accused of domestic terrorism, but Republicans circled the wagons and blocked him from being expelled from the Legislature.




► In the NY Times — What’s an essential service in a pandemic? The Post Office. (editorial) — America’s favorite government agency is on the brink of collapse, and Washington policymakers appear too mired in politics to save it. The Postal Service cannot be allowed to crumble in the midst of a national emergency. Though organized as a self-sustaining quasi-governmental enterprise, run without taxpayer funding, it is not just another business. Even in an increasingly wired world, the agency’s mandate of “universal service” provides a lifeline to remote areas. As this pandemic rages, its 600,000-plus employees are working to ensure that Americans receive their prescriptions and protective equipment and other essential items, no matter where they live. Nearly 500 postal workers have tested positive for the virus, with hundreds more suspected of having it… Congress can — and must — keep postal carriers on their appointed rounds. This essential institution should not be held hostage to political grudges. Now more than ever, Americans need something they can rely on.

The Stand (April 13) — Tell Congress to support our Postal Service! — The loss of the USPS would shatter our response to the coronavirus pandemic, hit already weakened businesses, and ravage communities. Send a message to Congress NOW, telling them that our public Postal Service needs all American leaders — Democrats and Republicans alike — to provide urgent and ongoing financial support from the federal government during this public health and economic crisis.

► In the Washington Post — In unprecedented move, Treasury orders Trump’s name printed on stimulus checks — The process could slow their delivery by a few days. It will be the first time a president’s name appears on an IRS disbursement.

► In the Washington Post — Trump and Kushner could reap a pandemic windfall (by Dana Milbank) — As the dust settles on the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, it has become clear that one of its largest provisions, a $170 billion tax giveaway, appears to be tailor-made for the benefit of wealthy real estate investors such as Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is running one of Trump’s coronavirus task forces. The giveaway, primarily to real estate investors and hedge funds, is larger than the total amount in the legislation for hospitals ($100 billion) and for relief for all state and local governments ($150 billion). This provision gives tax filers who earn more than $1 million a year an average windfall of $1.6 million this year alone. (Compare that with the $1,200 break the average wage earner gets.)

► From Fox Business — AFL-CIO’s Trumka wants coronavirus contagious disease standard before going back to workAFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke with Fox Business on Tuesday to talk about the federal government’s plans to reopen the economy. He said that workers’ voices must be heard in these discussions and that workplace health and safety requirements will need to be enhanced for all working people as there is a return to work.

► From Politico — ‘Should have happened yesterday’: Republicans press Trump to restart economy — GOP lawmakers are pushing Trump to move more quickly, even as health officials warn of ongoing danger from the pandemic.




► In the London Free Press — B.C. alters rules to make unionization easier — Labour Minister Harry Bains said a cabinet order last week to allow union sign-up cards to remain valid for six months, instead of three, was a lagging provision of a labour code law passed unanimously by all parties in the legislature in 2019. The order comes amid widespread layoffs, business closures and overall economic damage done by social distancing rules put in place last month to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Meanwhile, in the United States amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump’s National Labor Relations Board is erecting new hurdles for workers to join together in unions.

► In the Washington Post — Trump announces cutoff of new funding for the World Health Organization over pandemic response — Trump announced that he will suspend payments to the WHO in response to the United Nations agency’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as the organization is in the midst of combating a global outbreak that has killed thousands and crippled world economies. Trump’s announcement was expected, as he seeks to deflect blame for his early dismissal of the virus as a threat to Americans and the U.S. economy.

► ICYMI… a related story yesterday in the NY Times — The global coronavirus crisis is poised to get much, much worse (editorial) — What happens when the pandemic strikes nations of millions of people that have no savings, no safety net, and only a half-dozen ventilators? With the exception of Iran, the countries hardest hit up till now are among those with the world’s most advanced economies, scientific establishments and medical services. What probably lies ahead is the spread of the coronavirus through countries ravaged by conflict, through packed refugee camps and detention centers in places like Syria or Bangladesh, through teeming cities like Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro or Monrovia, where social distancing is impossible and government is not trusted, through countries without the fiscal capacity or health services to mount a viable response. That would be disastrous not only for them but also for the rest of the world as supplies of raw materials are disrupted, fragile economies collapse, strongmen grow stronger and the virus doubles back to reinfect northern regions.

► In the NY Times — Faith groups, AFL-CIO urge U.S., IMF, G20 to cancel debt for poor countries — The AFL-CIO union federation and nearly 80 faith groups on Tuesday urged the U.S. government, the IMF and G20 nations to cancel debt payments by developing countries so they could focus on fighting the coronavirus outbreak. In letters to Trump and international leaders, they also urged them to mobilize additional resources to support all countries affected by the rapidly spreading pandemic.




► From The Hill — Amazon firings fuel controversy over its virus responseAmazon’s move to fire three employees is stoking the controversy over its worker policies during the coronavirus outbreak and bringing new criticism from Washington... At the center of the controversy is criticism that Amazon has been slow to ease its rules on paid leave for sick employees, provide personal protective equipment and put in place policies to maximize social distancing at facilities.

► From The Guardian — Whole Foods staff to protest working conditions as coronavirus cases rise — Whole Foods workers across the US are planning to hold another sickout protest on 1 May as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infections at the supermarket chain continue to rise and workers charge the Amazon-owned company is doing too little to help them.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Will they be fired for speaking out like Amazon workers?




► In the NY Times — Stop talking about inequality and do something about it (by ) — Given its history, it’s no wonder Detroit — and places like it — are underwater in this crisis. Milwaukee, Chicago and New Orleans have all seen black people absorbing the full force of the outbreak. This virus is poised to rip through every black neighborhood in America… My city, Minneapolis, hosts some of the worst disparities between black and white success in America. Educational outcomes, wealth and wages and homeownership gaps shouldn’t be this wide, much less in a place so prosperous for white people. During every crisis, well-meaning white people here make a ritual of acknowledging the city’s steep inequities, but we’ve been hearing the same “woe is you” sentiment for a long time. It’s as if people think the mere acknowledgment is the work. But as North Minneapolis prepares to brace ourselves for the grim future Detroit and Milwaukee have shown us, the death tolls suggest that acknowledgments don’t mean a thing. I want to take us back to this notion of remedy. In “The Case for Reparations,” Ta-Nehisi Coates chronicled the carefully designed circumstances that have placed black people, by and large, in a position of low wealth in America. It’s not a force of nature, it’s not even a puzzle — the how we got here is known and the path out is knowable.


The Stand posts links to Washington state and national news of interest every weekday morning by 10 a.m.

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